David Coulthard: A Chequered (Tartan) History

Written by Jonny Whitney

This week, Scottish racing driver confirmed that he was to retire from all strands of motorsport after gracefully pulling out of F1 back in 2008.

This week, Scottish racing driver confirmed that he was to retire from all strands of motorsport after gracefully pulling out of F1 back in 2008. Having now closed the cover on his racing career, it enables us to look back on the highs and the lows of what was a very unique journey through motorsport.

Coulthard will be best remembered for his time in Formula One, but his start in the sport was in less than ideal circumstances. After becoming test driver for the top team of the era, Williams, in 1993, he was suddenly drafted in to replace the late, great, Ayrton Senna after his death in 1994. Despite this scary start in motorsport’s premier category, Coulthard was by no means a pushover as he finished second in just his eighth Grand Prix start. Skip forward a year and the young Scot scored four pole positions on the bounce as well as the all important maiden victory at the 1995 Portuguese Grand Prix. In the races he finished, he never finished below fourth place.

In return for his efforts in his first full season, Coulthard was signed to drive for McLaren, where he became a stalwart of nine seasons. The first years of his partnership with Mika Hakkinen were timid, with his first victory for the British team coming in 1997 in Australia, with another win in Italy. 1998, however, proved the start of a relationship that could have easily turned sour. Even though a McLaren won nine races that year, only one of those had been at the hands of Coulthard. Team-mate Hakkinen had won eight races and with it, the championship. Coulthard had finished second to his Finnish team-mate five times, and understandably, behind the scenes he was worried whether the team were treating both of its drivers equally.

After a tight battle for the championship in 2000, Coulthard’s – and Mclaren’s – performances became disappointing, and after having been regularly outpaced by a young Kimi Raikkonen, he was forced to leave McLaren after 2004 and find pastures new. This decision, however, in the long-term proved to be his finest hour. Coulthard joined a fresh start-up team named Red Bull who had just bought out the defunct Jaguar team. A season best of fourth place was then bettered the following year with a podium at the most glamorous race of the year in Monaco.

Whilst reliability at Red Bull was an issue in these early days, Coulthard continued to build up the team and developed a fantastic working relationship with Australian Mark Webber. After 2008 and another podium, this time in Canada, Coulthard announced his retirement from the sport, citing the birth of his first child in November of that year as a reason for his decision.

The best part of the story, however, was to come afterwards: Red Bull, who would have been nothing without Coulthard’s careful nurturing along with team principal Christian Horner and genius designer Adrian Newey, won their first race in the season after Coulthard’s departure. The year after that, in 2010, the team won their first championship with Sebastian Vettel and then repeated the feat the year after. The simple fact of the matter is that Red Bull would be nothing without Coulthard, and while the results did not come when he was driving for them, they would not have come at all had he not been involved.

Following his departure from F1, Coulthard dabbled in DTM (German Touring Cars) to find the ‘thrill’ of racing again, but like his contemporary Michael Schumacher he has now decided to hang up his helmet at the end of this year. With that, Coulthard’s career as a racing driver is now over. Whether he is best remembered as the fast Williams upstart or the Red Bull spearhead depends on one’s viewpoint, but one thing is for sure: the motorsport community has lost a legend.